Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More of the unending tyranny of petty bureaucracy in Britain

Lawyer wins thirty month battle against his borough council over the right to own a second garbage bin. In Australia, you just have to ask for one and pay a bit extra. I have had two for years

The policy of councils across Britain of limiting households to one wheelie bin each may have to change after an official complaint by a solicitor exasperated at having to make regular trips to his local rubbish tip. The local government ombudsman has ruled in favour of Roger Houlker, who has fought a 2« year battle against Congleton borough council to be given a second bin for his six-bedroom Cheshire home. The ombudsman, Anne Seex, found the council guilty of "maladministration with injustice" for failing to collect all his waste and ordered it to review its policy. She also said she had "reservations" about the authority's refusal to collect additional bags of waste left beside wheelie bins.

While waiting for his bin to be emptied, Houlker had to deal with vermin ripping open black bags used to hold extra waste in his garden and he made regular 12-mile trips to take them to a dump because dustmen would only take waste from his one 240-litre bin. Congleton council insisted the bin should have been enough for him, his wife Julie and their three children. [How nice to have bureaucrats deciding what you need!]

The ruling could lead to a flood of appeals against councils with similar one-bin-per-house rules. Houlker, who lives in the village of Swettenham, first complained to the council in February 2006. He said he was doing all he could to recycle and claimed the council had a legal duty to pick up the extra waste. In December 2007 Houlker complained to the ombudsman that he was being forced to take waste to the tip in his car.

In addition to telling the council to review its policy, Seex has said Houlker should be given $500 for his "time, trouble and costs" in taking his own bin bags to the tip. A spokesman for the environment department said: "As quoted in the ombudsman's report, it is hard to see how the authority can justify refusing to collect waste from a second bin especially where the resident is offering to pay for the additional receptacle." Congleton council confirmed it was reviewing its policies.


Over 1,000 cancer patients refused drugs by NHS managers

More than 1,000 patients been turned down for cancer drugs in the last two years because NHS managers judged they were not "exceptional" cases, according to a new report. The Rarer Cancers Forum, which compiled the data, called on ministers to intervene to end a "bizarre and demeaning" postcode lottery, which it said was leaving patients to die. Their analysis shows that almost all patients in some areas were given the often expensive drugs, while in other areas no patient received them.

The call comes just days after patients groups and doctors reacted angrily to a decision that four kidney cancer drugs were not cost effective enough to be provided on the NHS. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) judged that the drugs, which can prolong the average sufferers life for around five or six months, did not provide enough benefits for their cost of up to $48,000.

Primary Care Trusts have a duty to make the drugs available if they have been approved by the watchdog. But NHS managers can also choose to fund drugs which have yet to be approved or have been turned down by Nice if they think a patient's case is "exceptional". The report shows that while the majority of the 5,000 requests to be exceptional cases were approved, 1,300 were turned down. It also reveals wide variations in how some trusts judge what is "exceptional", for example some take into account a patient's wider family situation, whereas others look only at their medical case. Earlier this year a High Court judge ordered an NHS panel to reconsider its decision to refuse one of the kidney cancer drugs, called Sutent, to a woman who is the sole carer of her seriously ill husband, claiming it had not looked at her circumstances "in the round".

The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that more than 5,000 patients asked for their cases to be considered by their local healthcare authorities, since October 2006. While 96 per cent of patients in living in Mid Essex had their requests approved, all those in South West Essex who asked to be considered "exceptional" cases were turned down.

The committees who made the decisions were often controlled by NHS managers rather than doctors, the charity, which received detailed answers from 104 of the 152 PCTs across the country, a total of 68 per cent, claims. The Forum plans to submit the report, Taking Exception, to the Department of Health. Penny Wilson-Webb, from the charity, said: "The NHS should be available to all who need it. "Yet 1,300 cancer patients were denied the treatment that could have made all the difference to them. This audit shows that the exceptional cases process is in chaos and patients are suffering. In the last 20 months, 5,000 cancer patients have been forced to plead for their lives. There has to be a better way. We urge the Government to ... end this bizarre and demeaning lottery."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We have heard from patients that one of their major concerns is the perceived "postcode lottery" in access to drugs – that there are too many variations around who gets access to prescribed drugs and that these variations are a lottery depending on where you live. "The draft NHS Constitution will address this by making it explicit that patients have the right to NICE-approved drugs if clinically appropriate. We will also speed up the national process for appraising new drugs and make more transparent and consistent the process for local funding of drugs not appraised by NICE or where NICE has yet to issue guidance."

Roche, the pharmaceutical company, provided funding for the new research, but the charity insisted it retained editorial control.


British education spending spree has 'failed pupils'

The literacy and numeracy of new employees have tumbled over the past decade despite Labour's œ28 billion increase in annual education spending, according to research by a leading employers' organisation. The Institute of Directors (IoD) found that 71% of its members believe the writing abilities of new employees had worsened, while 60% believed numeracy had also declined; 52% reported a worsening of the basic ability to communicate.

With the exam results season under way, more than 60% of company directors now think GCSEs and A-levels are less demanding than a decade ago. Overall, only 27% believe schools have got better under Labour. A-level results to be released this Thursday are expected to show the number of passes going above 97% and the proportion of A grades rising slightly from last year's 25.3%, the 11th successive annual rise. One exam board chief said the results will show continued decline in the numbers taking languages but rises in some science subjects, reversing the trend of recent years.

According to the IoD report, to be published this week, the results of Labour's education policies fall far short of what might be expected given the surge in school spending since the party came to power. In 1997-8, $96 billion was devoted to education, rising to $152.6 billion in the current year, an increase of nearly 60% when adjusted for inflation. "Despite the impressive political energy and resources focused on education, our members believe the government has generally performed poorly in this critical area," said Miles Templeman, the IoD's director-general. "There is a substantial credibility gap between what official statistics show and what employers feel on the front line."

Exam grades improve almost every year, leading to arguments between ministers who claim they show a real improvement and critics who argue that standards are becoming more lax.

The research also includes a review by Durham University academics of evidence on whether the rigour of GCSEs, A-levels and primary education has been maintained. They find that, at best, standards have remained the same or improved marginally. In basic scientific knowledge - such as knowing what density means - they report a "dramatic" fall, particularly for boys.

The Durham academics, Robert Coe and Peter Tymms, found strong evidence of "grade inflation" in their analysis of GCSE and A-level results over the past three decades. They also report that the understanding of basic scientific concepts such as volume and weight among 11 and 12-year-olds has deteriorated since 1976. The proportion of boys giving the right answer to an elementary question on the displacement of water fell from 54% to 17% over the period. "The fact schools are not teaching this is a real problem," Coe said. "The scale of the drop is just huge: it is dramatic. Many people would argue that you cannot do science without these fundamentals."

Jim Knight, the schools minister, said: "English and maths standards have risen over the last decade and quality has been rigorously scrutinised. "Business concerns about school-leavers reflect the reality of the changing economy with historic low unemployment and the virtual elimination of low-skill jobs. Employers rightly have far higher expectations of workers' skills than ever. "We are tackling employers' concerns head-on with the biggest education reforms for generations such as tougher A-levels and GCSEs; improved skills training across the board; and raising the participation age to 18."

- More teenagers are not in education, employment or training (Neet) than studying for A-levels in three of Britain's poorest boroughs, according to new research by the Conservatives. Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, argues that the figures for Rochdale in Greater Manchester, Sandwell in the West Midlands, and Knowsley, Merseyside, are evidence of "shocking" polarisation between rich and poor areas.


1 comment:

The Badge said...

28 billion extra blown on education and kids don't know what density means! I don't know if the irony of kids being too dense to understand density was intended but I'll be chuckling about it for hours.